Big top fold up! Mom-and-pop stand in for Ringling Bros closes six weeks early

Big top fold up! Mom-and-pop stand in for Ringling Bros closes six weeks early

A mom-and-pop circus that filled the void when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey pulled out of Coney Island this summer has folded up its tent six weeks early.

Vidbel Circus abruptly packed up its horses and acrobats and rode out of town a mere 20 days after its Independence Day weekend opening because the less-than-greatest-show-on Earth was not making enough money.

Some shows drew as few as 15 customers a night, despite tickets that cost just $10. Some performances were flat-out canceled when no one showed up at all, an official with the Florida-based one-ring extravaganza told us.

The company had signed a lease with Central Amusement International to operate on a Stillwell Avenue lot through Labor Day — replacing the elephant-size void left when Ringling Brothers abandoned its 2,400-seat tent after just two summers.

“Our thoughts were that our ‘walk-up’ would be enough to make a profit considering our location — unfortunately, this was not the case,” said Vidbel President Susan Vidbel-Ashton.

“We stayed as long as we could.”

But Coney Island stalwarts believe that the circus’s failure was its poor promotion.

Vidbel Circus — which replaced Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey this summer — has packed up and left six weeks early, after entertaining as few as 15 customers on some nights at this Stillwell Avenue lot.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

“They were nice people, but they did a horrible job setting up their entrance, they did not have painted banners advertising the circus, and they didn’t have the slightest idea how to ballyhoo,” said Sideshow operator Dick Zigun, who is a master of self- and show promotion. “Take the horses and clowns and put on mini-circus parade 15 minutes before a showtime — that’s how you sell tickets!”

Promotion failures appear to have extended beyond the show’s closing. The company’s website remains online — disappointing some fans who sought out the show last week with their family.

“I was disappointed, especially since I brought my kid there, and she was very excited about going to the circus,” said Yuliya Chernova. “On the way there, she told me that it was a nice surprise for her because we don’t go to the circus often.”

The lot will be empty for the rest of the summer, but Zigun hopes a new circus, perhaps Ringling Bros., will return.

“All circuses are not equal,” said Zigun.

“I wish Ringling Brothers, a greater show on earth, would come back — they know how to advertise. Frankly this was an amateur circus.”

Susan Vidbel flew high in the Vidbel Circus — but the troupe couldn’t make any money, so it folded its tent in Coney Island six weeks early.
Fetching Photography